Beijing Olympics: The Curse of the Five Fuwa Mascots

June 19, 2008


These five Fuwa characters are the official mascots of the Beijing Games. Based on the five traditional Olympic rings (designed in 1913 to represent the five major continents), four symbolize China’s most popular animals and one stands in for the Olympic flame.

According to the official website:

Each of Fuwa has a rhyming two-syllable name… Beibei is the Fish, Jingjing is the Panda, Huanhuan is the Olympic Flame, Yingying is the Tibetan Antelope and Nini is the Swallow.

When you put their names together — Bei Jing Huan Ying Ni — they say “Welcome to Beijing”…

Turns out, the mascots also represent five curses. According to Reuters:

After a devastating earthquake struck Sichuan province last month, Internet users tied four of the five Fuwa mascots to the calamities that have struck China…

One Fuwa is a panda, the totem of Sichuan [earthquakes]. The others resemble a torch, reminding netizens of the protests against the international Olympic torch rally; a Tibetan antelope tied to widespead demonstrations in Tibetan areas; and a swallow that looks like a kite, linked to a deadly train crash in Shandong province.

The final Fuwa, sporting a fish, was left unexplained… until widespread flooding in southern and central China claimed dozens of lives in June.

Reuters reports that government censors have been removing postings about the curse so as not to fuel the superstitious. The Games, however, are still scheduled to begin at 8:08 PM on 8/8/08 — 8 being a lucky number for certain superstitious Chinese.

Beijing Olympics: One World, One Dream, One Official Cheer

June 7, 2008

On Thursday, Reuters broke the unusual story about Beijing Olympics organizers releasing an official cheer or “chanting routine”. It’s for local Chinese spectators who “might be lacking in proper sports etiquette”. (And just in case they’ve gotten some ideas from European soccer fans.)

The UK Telegraph reported today that China has issued official instructions accompanied by cartoons and illustrations showing a young girl in “approved postures”:

In the first frame she is beginning to clap; in the second, doing a thumbs-up gesture; in the third, clapping again; and in the fourth, holding both arms up in the air.

In time, she also chants: “Aoyun! Jia You! Zhongguo! Jia You!” meaning “Olympics! Add petrol! China! Add petrol!

Reuters translates this chant much too literally as “add oil”. The Telegraph translates it into “add petrol” and offers a more contextual translation: “Go, Go!” Or, more fuel, more power, which makes a lot more sense.

Li Ning, president of the Beijing Etiquette Institute (!) teaches people that the chants are flexible and they can — should they be so moved — replace the words “Olympics” and “China” with names of individual athletes or other countries. Apparently this would demonstrate “open-mindedness”. It would also be “in line with general international principles for cheering.”

Wow. Since China is importing much of the world’s best creatives to showcase its growth and power, I wonder if they consulted with these choreographers first. Nothing beats tried and tested popular appeal.

And nothing beats democracy — which we hope gets smuggled in with the other imports. Happy Saturday!

Two Chinas: Spectacles in Beijing, Ruins in Sichuan

May 28, 2008

I read Paul Goldberger‘s architecture column in The New Yorker today and appreciate his take on Beijing’s spectacular Olympic Green. He writes:

“If Tiananmen Square is a monument to the Maoist policy of self-sufficiency, the Olympic Green, ten miles and fifty years away, is an architectural statement of intent every bit as clear — a testament to the global ambitions of the world’s fastest-growing major economy.

At least two of the buildings on the Olympic Green—the National Stadium, by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, and the National Aquatics Center, by the Australian firm PTW Architects—are as innovative as any architecture on the planet, marvels of imagination and engineering that few countries would have the nerve or the money to attempt. The Chinese, right now, have plenty of both.”

What I really appreciate is Golberger’s ultimate point, which makes up part of his subtitle: “….but what message does it send?” It seems that the image of progress (something contemporary architecture is increasingly called upon to conjure) — rather than actual sociopolitical progress — is the administration’s goal. He critiques:

“…there’s no mistaking the old-fashioned monumentalist approach behind it. This is an Olympics driven by image, not by sensitive urban planning…

In both conception and execution, the best of Beijing’s Olympic architecture is unimpeachably brilliant. But the development also exemplifies traits—the reckless embrace of the fashionable and the global, the authoritarian planning heedless of human cost—that are elsewhere denaturing, even destroying, the fabric of the city.

Finishing Goldberger’s article, I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between Beijing’s futuristic facilities and the post-earthquake ruins of schools, hospitals, and factories in Sichuan province, where the death toll now hovers around 70,000. The dialectical tension between these two Chinas sadly testify to the transiency and fragility of human constructions and fabricated utopias.

TOP: Photo from Goldberger’s New Yorker column on Beijing; BOTTOM: Photo by Shiho Fukada for the New York Times, two girls at the ruins of Juyuan Middle School